Kerry’s Jewish state remarks continue to draw criticism

Deputy foreign minister says Israel must stand up for its principles; MK Erdan says secretary is pushing the wrong side

Senior Israeli government figures continued to criticize US Secretary of State John Kerry’s remarks on Sunday after the diplomat said the insistence on Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state is a mistake, adding that the issue should not be a critical factor in whether the current round of Israel-Palestinian peace negotiations succeed or fail.

Speaking to Israel Radio, Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin (Likud) said Kerry’s statements are part of a trend that has developed over the past 20 years, which has seen foreign governments that agree with the Israeli stance nevertheless finding it considerably easier to pressure Israel rather than the Palestinians. The time has come for Israel to stand up for its principles, Elkin said.

Likud MK Gilad Erdan said the timing of the secretary’s latest statements, ahead of President Barack Obama’s meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, was unfortunate. Kerry is mistaken again, and is pressing the wrong side for concessions, he stressed.

Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog on Saturday said the Palestinians will have to recognize Israel as a Jewish state as part of a final peace agreement.

Labor Party Leader Isaac Herzog speaks during a faction meeting in the Knesset on December 23, 2013. (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Labor Party Leader Isaac Herzog speaks during a faction meeting in the Knesset on December 23, 2013. (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Herzog, who also serves as Knesset opposition chief, didn’t go as far as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in demanding that the Palestinian Authority recognize Israel’s Jewish character as a central condition.

In recent months Netanyahu has insisted that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas recognize Israel as “a Jewish state” — something Palestinians are refusing to do, believing it would irrevocably torpedo chances for the return of refugees living in exile. Israel rejects any mass “return” of refugees and their descendants to Israel, since this could drastically alter the Jewish state’s demographic balance, and says Palestinian refugees should become citizens of a Palestinian state.

As for the issue of Jerusalem’s status in a final deal, Herzog said that the city should remain united but could still serve as both an Israeli and Palestinian capital.

“Jerusalem needs to be united but it can be the capital of two nations,” Israel Radio quoted Herzog saying, “and obviously there will be a need for the evacuation of settlements.”

The Labor head has said before that he is uncertain the prime minister has what it takes to make concessions with the Palestinians that would lead to a final agreement.

AFP contributed to this report.

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